Unlike the Reds and Marlins, the Braves' previous postseason opponents this year, the Dodgers don’t have key weaknesses to exploit. The Dodgers were the only team to outscore (by one run) and out-homer the Braves this season.
The Reds piled up strikeouts while seeking homers. The Braves took advantage of that, holding a low-average offense scoreless in two games (22 innings). The Dodgers struck out only 471 times, the fourth-lowest total in baseball. And they did so while leading the majors with 118 homers.
Miami lacked power – the Marlins hit one homer in the three-game series – but presented a peskier group of hitters. The Dodgers have the same ability to make pitchers work, though they do it with higher-end talent and experience well beyond anything Miami offered.
Los Angeles is the only NL team that can match the Braves' star power and lineup depth. Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts are former MVPs who affect games with their offense, defense and speed. They arguably are the top two players in the NL.
Throw in proven, battle-tested talents such as Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, AJ Pollack and emerging star Will Smith, and it’s easy to see how the Dodgers scored at the same clip as the slugging Braves.
“The Dodgers' team is obviously great,” Braves catching coach Sal Fasano said. "They really are. They wouldn’t have won eight consecutive (NL) West banners if they weren’t. They have tremendous individual talent, but they play really well as a team. When you look at guys like Betts, Bellinger, Muncy, Taylor, Will Smith, the catcher, I could keep going.
“What we have to do is break it down. We understand they’re going to make contact. And when they make contact, hopefully we’ll be in the right position. You can’t pitch for a strikeout all the time with this team because they have a chance to do damage. I know their numbers aren’t as great as they’ve been, but it’s still a tremendous legacy team with a rich history of winning and some really, really talented players.”
Pitching-wise, the Dodgers possess frontline starters in Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw to match against Max Fried and Ian Anderson. They have more rotation depth than the Braves, and that could prove the difference in a series with no off-days. Dustin May, who had a 2.57 ERA in 12 games (10 starts) in the regular season, started Game 3 against the Padres, though he only pitched one inning because the Dodgers opted for a committee approach. Julio Urias pitched five innings, allowing one unearned run, following May. Tony Gonsolin, a second-year pitcher who had a 2.31 ERA in nine games, would’ve started a Game 4.
One potential Braves advantage: ninth-inning certainty. The Dodgers have a strong bullpen, but their ninth-inning situation isn’t as clear as the Braves'. Kenley Jansen, once the sport’s best closer, nearly blew Game 2 against the Padres. The Dodgers had to turn to Joe Kelly. Jansen isn’t Mr. Reliable anymore, and because of it the Dodgers lack a clear closer.
The Braves have stuck with Mark Melancon in the ninth, and they love the bridge they’ve built to him with a collection of upstarts and former All-Star relievers. The bullpen has been outstanding in the past week, and it can’t afford a slipup in the NLCS.
If the Braves make the World Series, they’ll have certainly earned it. They might’ve avoided the most difficult road to get to this point, but they’ll have to beat the statistically best team in baseball to have a shot at winning the second title in their Atlanta history. It begins Monday in the heart of Texas.